Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

The Blower of Bubbles

by Arthur Beverley Baxter

A very poignant collection of short stories, all set during the First World War. They're not war stories in a classic sense, yet they do bring home not only the real tragedy of war, but also the way it can bring out the best in people.

Reviewed on 2015.10.02

The Red Symbol

by John Ironside

An exciting novel that catches you up in its action at the outset and keeps you there till the end. Set amid the Russian revolution of 1905, the story covers the experiences of Maurice Wynn, an American journalist who goes to St. Petersburg as a correspondent for a London journal after his predecessor was murdered. Just before leaving London, he gets a visit from a mysterious old Russian, who tells him that the woman he loves is in danger. Then he finds his upstairs neighbor stabbed to death, and discovers the man was mixed up in a secret Russian radical society.

After arrival in Russia, he hears a panicked call for help from a passing carriage, and realizes it's his English girlfriend, Anne, whom he had thought was in Berlin. She's been kidnapped by the revolutionaries, who say she is Anna Petrovna, an avid revolutionary, who was one of their leaders. They now believe her for a traitor who has betrayed their secrets, and they plan to kill her. Thus Wynn moves from disinterested journalist to an active participant in the fomenting terrors and violent uprisings of 19th-century Russia.

This is the sort of book you want to never end. The ending is anticlimactic and less believable than the rest, but until then it's all breathless action, with a little Russian history thrown in.

Reviewed on 2015.07.21

The Hampstead Mystery

by John R. Watson

A notable judge is found shot to death in his deserted Hampstead home when he was supposed to be vacationing in Scotland. Neither the two Scotland Yard detectives nor the private investigator hired by the victim's daughter can make much headway amid all the red herrings strewn in their paths, not least of which is their desire to outdo each other.

There's nothing really wrong with this book, but it didn't appeal to me. I thought the clues afforded the reader were too slight, and some of the writing a bit turgid.

Reviewed on 2015.07.15

On the Iron at Big Cloud

by Frank L. Packard

This book surprised me. Its subject normally doesn't interest me, but I really enjoyed these stories, because the writing is so good. I love the way Packard uses words! He writes in a colorful, conversational style that pulls you right in, and his action scenes make exciting reading.

On the strength of it, this is a collection of linked railroading stories, set in the Rockies in the days when trains were the foremost means of cross-country travel and freight, uhsteam engines ran on hand-shoveled coal, the tracks were single and precarious, washouts common, and a lantern signal might be the only means of stopping speeding locomotives from a perilous crash ... if it did.

There's a lot of historic train jargon that will no doubt mean more to rail fans than it did to me, but you don't need to understand those references to enjoy the stories. These aren't really tales about trains but about men (only a handful of women appear, and that briefly), their foibles, their relationships with each other, their work, and their heroism. Mostly these railroaders are rough and ready, strong and tough, yet extremely human, and the tales range from heartwarming to heartrending.

My favorite stories are “Spitzer” and “The Builder,” about not so tough men who find hidden strength when it's needed.

Note: Some stories include terms and stereotypes now considered ethnic slurs, but no doubt commonly used in the historic context.

List of stories:

Reviewed on 2015.07.07

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